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Community can’t stop investing in future

With the uncertainty of a slowing national economy, frustrationsover the recent property reappraisals and the resulting uncertaintyin the budgetary process of both city and county governments thathas taxpayers fearful of skyrocketing property taxes — not tomention annexation plans, increased garbage fees and otherpocketbook issues that have been in the news recently — it is hardto get the community to focus on the importance of long-terminvestment in economic development.

Brookhaven and Lincoln County has been a shining star ineconomic development over the years. We have been an over-achiever,which has placed us above larger communities throughoutMississippi. However, things change and adjustments are alwaysnecessary to continue to succeed. A study of Lincoln County’seconomic development situation released last week showed severalareas that need change and demand the immediate attention of thelocal community if we are going to continue in our current growthpattern.

The study conducted by Dr. David Kolzow of the Center ofCommunity and Economic Development at the University of SouthernMississippi pointed out that a serious problem exists with our lackof available industrial buildings and land as well as our limitedhousing availability for attracting new industry.

The study confirmed what local homeowners already know andIndustrial Development Foundation (IDF) members have been sayingover the past couple of years as they have mounted efforts to findland and secure funding for a new industrial park for LincolnCounty.

You see, industries these days are looking for 50 to 100 acresites, where the land has already been cleared and leveled andinfrastructure improvements, such water and sewer, are in place.They need sites where they can quickly build and beganproduction.

While a few years ago had several large tracts available, todaywe have only seven acres of usable property — seven acres thatChamber of Commerce officials can offer to industrial prospects.Effectively, we are out of the industrial development game andsitting on the sidelines watching others court prospects. It isespecially crucial now as the Nissan plant in Madison County isunder construction. Suppliers are searching for suitable siteswithin a 60 to 100 mile radius to open facilities. Brookhavensimply does not have readily available acreage.

Our problem is a good one in that we have been successful inattracting new industry over the years to fill our currentindustrial park; however, despite efforts to correct the situation,IDF members have not been successful in finding a new 600-plus acresite or in getting the attention of city and county officials ofthe importance of helping provide the necessary funding.

Recent statistics show that the annual payroll of the industriesthat occupy the Brookhaven/Lincoln County Industrial Park is over$96 million per year. That is $96 million dollars that circulatesthrough our local economy buying goods and services, paying taxes,and providing resources, which create new jobs that attract newfamilies who need new housing. That creates construction jobs toprovide the housing, which creates a demand for additional lumberand the need for more timber harvesting . . . and so on and soon.

Those same statistics show over $2.1 million in taxes each yearto the city and county coffers each year to offset those taxes thatotherwise would come from the rest of us.

Our area has seen a strong economic growth over the past decade.We have secured the future of our community by building on ourretail trade center status and by setting into place the pieces ofthe economic puzzle that attract more economic growth. We haveinvested in our schools and seen the vision of the School of theArts. When we have needed to, we have stepped up to the plate.

What we have to do now is to continue doing what we have beendoing in the past — thinking long-term and investing in ourfuture. But time is crucial in that every day, we are losing groundin the economic development game to those communities who haveproperty ready to sell.

E-mail Bill Jacobs at bjacobs@dailyleader.com